Despite the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets currently operating in two different directions, the Nets are operating much like the Knicks did during the beginning of the decade.
The Knicks’ priority was to build through big-name free agents when the 2010s began — and that year’s free agent class was regarded as one of the deepest of all time. Big names like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson all featured, along with the crown jewel that was LeBron James.
For the Knicks, it was LeBron or bust. The franchise had a lot of money tied into low-tier players which put them over the amount they were allowed to spend, better known as cap space. The Knicks cleared the cap space to afford him and potentially Wade, while the then-New Jersey Nets were looking to develop young players like Derrick Favors, Brook Lopez and Terrance Williams to partner with All-Star, Deron Williams.
Unfortunately, the Knicks’ wish to land LeBron never came true. They ended up signing Stoudemire to a five-year deal knowing the risk they were taking on a guy who had microfracture surgery on his knee early in his career.
Luckily, Stoudemire played like an MVP during his first season in New York. He averaged 25 points and eight rebounds, making his fifth straight All-Star team. Near the trade deadline, the Knicks made a blockbuster trade to acquire Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets.
The trade was the big move the Knicks had been searching for since Patrick Ewing left. He was a four-time All-Star and averaged just under 25 points per game with the Nuggets. The Knicks felt Anthony was the superstar could complete their goal of winning an NBA title.
The combo of Stoudemire’s power in the paint, combined with Anthony’s ability to score anywhere, seemed like a match made in heaven. The injury bug led to the duo’s downfall, plaguing Stoudemire for the final four years of the contract and Anthony’s inability to become a team-oriented player.
They were part of only one playoff series victory, and it came in the 2012-13 season where Stoudemire only played 29 games and never started. The team belonged to Amar’e for half a season in 2010-11, but once Carmelo came to town, the reigns were immediately handed over.
Due to their failures, both players were eventually pushed out via trade and it left the franchise in shambles. Stoudemire’s injuries and Anthony’s unwillingness to become a team player, forced them to become useless to other teams in the league.
What does this mean for the Brooklyn Nets?
Their signings of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving finally brought some excitement back to Nets basketball. Fans were still hungry from their first postseason appearance since 2014, and the signings of Durant and Irving showed the franchise was serious about contending after multiple years being one of the worst teams in the league due to disastrous asset management and overpaid contracts.
The Knicks are currently building through the draft, choosing to develop young stars like RJ Barrett or Mitchell Robinson, and avoiding free agents who may come with any baggage.
This is not to say that Durant and Irving are going to sink the Brooklyn Nets but the franchise is taking a very big risk with both of these players. Both have had major injuries in their past. Irving has a knee which has given him issues on and off since 2015. Durant ruptured his Achilles in June while attempting to play already injured in the 2019 NBA finals.
Irving has also had some problems with teammates, highlighted during his time playing for the Boston Celtics. He says he is ready for the bright lights of New York City, but that is all talk until he shows he is able to handle the media after tough losses. With Durant likely out for the year, Irving has no choice but to continue to lead, albeit in a better way than he did in Boston.
The Nets have four years invested in these guys, which means they both are going to be catered to along with extreme protection on their health. Due to Durant’s injury, it only leaves three years for them to develop together while they are still in their primes.
The added issue, along with the most important variable in all of this, is that there is no guarantee Durant returns to be the same player he was. Achilles injuries can be fatal to careers and some players never recover. DeMarcus Cousins is just the latest member of the club who may never regain All-Star status.
The Knicks took a lot of flack for being unable to sign top-tier free agents and sticking with mid-to-low level signings, but they were actually the smart ones by avoiding the pitfall they always throw themselves into. Management would bring in the big name players just to have them and see how they mesh well with the team.
The Knicks had red flags about offering too many years or too much money to the top-tier free agents. The current plan in place is to develop the multitude of young prospects they have and mix them with hardworking veterans, such as…, to build the toughness needed to win a title.
If there was one team’s future to bet on for the next five years, my pick would be the Knicks. The Nets’ current roster is not enough to even make it out of the East, regardless of Durant being healthy or not.
The Knicks are likely missing the playoffs again this season, but there is a real excitement around them. Many of the young players on the roster are loaded with potential and are going to get the chance to grow. R.J. Barrett, Dennis Smith Jr., Mitchell Robinson and Frank Ntlikina are just a few of the high-potential guys scattered all over the Knicks roster.
For once, the Knicks are rebuilding their entire roster the correct way, and fans not just in New York, but the entire country, should be excited for it.